One of the worst indignities about acne? It’s often visible long after your breakouts are over. Some acne, depending on its severity, can leave unpleasant scars that can be extremely difficult to remove.
If you suffer from acne, or had serious breakout in the past, you likely have scars left behind. If you’re looking to get rid of those scars, there are options – it just takes time and the right solution to eliminate or treat acne scars.
Types of Scarring
The scarring you’re living with depends on what type of acne you’ve experienced. There are two main types of acne: inflammatory and non-inflammatory.
Blackheads and whiteheads are the most common form of acne, and they’re considered non-inflammatory because these blocked pores don’t usually cause swelling. This type of acne often clears up after your teenage years and won’t cause scarring unless there was picking or popping done.
Inflammatory acne, however, is much more problematic and harder to treat. It’s often caused by bacteria as well as dead skin cells and sebum, and can lead to an infection beneath the surface of skin. This acne typically leads to scarring, as collagen either breaks down or builds up on the surface of skin.
There are several different types of scars that can develop from inflammatory acne. The most common types of acne scars include:
- Ice pick scars, which are narrow and V-shaped like the indentation from an ice pick. They’re the most difficult to treat because the narrow end can be quite deep.
- Rolling scars are wide and irregular in their shape
- Boxed scars are wide with sharp edges. The deeper they are, the harder they will be to treat.
- Hypertrophic scars are any raised scar that’s caused by an overproduction of collagen during the healing process.
Even though it may feel hopeless when you see scars developing, there are methods you can use to remove them. Depending on your level of scarring and your budget, there are at-home treatment options available, or you can consult a professional dermatologist. You can try the following acne scar treatment options on your scars.
Retinoids are an active ingredient in many acne treatments and can be used to help treat scarring. Retinoids work by speeding up cell regeneration and encouraging the growth of new skin cells, which helps to improve the look and texture of skin much faster. There are plenty of over-the-counter creams and serums that contain retinoids, and these can easily be purchased inexpensively at your local pharmacy.
If you have minor scarring, and want to try at-home treatment options first, retinoid creams are a great place to start. La Roche-Posay, RoC, and Keeva all make excellent creams that are gentle on skin and contain retinol as an active ingredient. If you need a stronger dosage, your dermatologist may be able to prescribe a cream or serum with a higher concentration of retinol.
Sunscreen should be an absolute cornerstone of any skincare regimen, but it’s especially important if you have acne scars. Not only does sunscreen protect your skin from sun damage, but it also helps ensure your acne scars don’t take on further pigmentation and grow darker when exposed to the sun.
Hyperpigmented acne scars are much more noticeable than those that have remained the same color as the rest of the skin. It’s also essential to wear sunscreen at all times if you’re using retinoids, as it makes skin extremely sensitive to sun exposure.
If you avoid sunscreen because you’re worried about using thick, greasy formulas, there are better options available. There are tons of amazing moisturizers, lightweight creams, and breathable lotions designed specifically for everyday wear that contain SPF.
3. Salicylic Acid
Salicylic acid is a common ingredient in many acne treatments, but not everyone realizes that it can also be used to help skin recover from acne-related damage. Salicylic acid helps to clear pores and reduce swelling and redness, which is something that can occur long after an initial breakout has cleared up.
Salicylic acid promotes cell growth and encourages collagen production, which both helps acne heal, and helps scarred skin regenerate faster. And it comes with benefits beyond improving acne scarring too – salicylic acid helps improve skin elasticity and moisture production, which makes skin look more plump, in turn reducing the appearance of scars and other lines and wrinkles. You can find salicylic acid as an active ingredient in many acne washes and creams.
If you have a lot of shallow boxcar or rolling scars, you may want to consider getting dermabrasion. It’s often offered as an option by dermatologists, and it’s considered both effective and safe for most skin types.
Dermabrasion, or its less-intense counterpart microdermabrasion, is a method of exfoliation that uses a rough, rotating wheel called a dermablader to remove the outer layers of skin where there are scars or other damage. It’s an outpatient procedure, but will require a local or general anaesthetic.
After your appointment, you’ll need to be careful with your skin. Your doctor will apply a bandage after the procedure, which must be changed regularly. Your skin will feel sensitive for several months following the procedure, and it’s recommended that you moisturize with a thick petroleum jelly, and always wear sunscreen when exposing yourself to the sun.
5. Chemical Peels
A chemical peel is a popular spa treatment, but did you know a peel can also help to soothe acne scars? Created from a solution of chemicals, a chemical peel removes the top layer of damaged skin on your face, hands, or neck.
There are some mild chemical peels that can be done at home, but if you want to see results, you’ll need a medium or deep chemical peel, which is typically done in a dermatologist’s office. For deeper chemical peels, which use a solution of phenol or tricholoracetic acid, you may be sedated, with a heart monitor applied to monitor your vital signs. After the procedure, the skin swells and crusts over before new skin is revealed.
6. Laser Resurfacing
Laser resurfacing is another tool in your dermatologist’s arsenal that can remove the top layer of skin, revealing a less-damaged layer underneath. It’s considered less intrusive and heals faster than dermabrasion or a chemical peel – most of the time, your face will return to normal in less than three weeks.
This treatment option is particularly beneficial for those with many acne scars. A full-face laser resurfacing can be completed in around 2 hours. Since it’s done with such a fine laser beam, it can be used to spot-treat smaller areas, and is most beneficial on shallow scars.
If you have a smaller number of large boxed or rolling acne scars, you may benefit from fillers. While fillers are a popular cosmetic procedure, they can also be used to reduce the appearance of scars that feature indents or dimpling.
Your dermatologist will inject your scars individually with a filler that plumps up the depressed area and makes skin look smooth. There are a few different fillers that have been approved for use, including hyaluronic acid, collagen, and polymethylmethacrylate beads.
Filler won’t treat your scars permanently, however. Most of the fillers available today will break down in six to 24 months, and the procedure will need to be redone. Polymethylmethacrylate beads are the only permanent filler on the market today. Once the injection is done, you may experience side effects like bruising and redness, but those usually go away within two weeks.